The New York Jets' 2021 schedule, released by the NFL Wednesday night, is a bundle of firsts in franchise history mixed in alongside those familiar touchstones that pop up in every schedule every year.
The unique scheduling wrinkles begin with opening day on Sunday, Sept. 12. The Jets' first game of head coach Robert Saleh's tenure comes at the Carolina Panthers, to whom the Jets traded Sam Darnold in April. Thus the game sets up a potential QB matchup of the third overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft — Darnold — against the second pick of this year's draft — Zach Wilson — right from the jump.
Also, the last time the Jets opened a season against an NFC South opponent was 2013, against Tampa Bay at MetLife Stadium. The Green & White have never opened a season on the road against the Panthers or any other NFC South team since 2002. And of their seven games all-time against Carolina, they've never before played the Panthers in September.
The new and familiar scheduling quirks proceed from there:
New England: The Jets' home opener comes in Week 2 against old foe New England. That in itself is hardly new — they've played 12 previous Jets home openers against each other. The most recent was also the Jets' last win over the Pats in a home opener, 2009, when a rookie QB — Mark Sanchez — started and won, 16-9, over a vaunted veteran — Tom Brady.
But then the Jets draw the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 24, before they've played another AFC East opponent. And that is very unusual. The Jets have never played their first two division games in one season against New England. And the only time they did it against any AFC East foe was in 2018, when they played the Dolphins twice before any other division opponent.
London: The Jets knew they were playing the Falcons on the road. But the road extended from the 747 air miles between Newark and Atlanta to the 3,465 miles from North Jersey to northern London. The Jets will make their second trip to play in London and their first since 2015, when they beat Miami 27-14 at Wembley Stadium. And this will be the first time the Jets play at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which opened in 2018 and hosted two NFL games in 2019.
"17th Game": The NFL expanded all regular-season schedules to 17 games this season and the Jets' extra opponent is the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife. Now we know when the East Coast's two green teams will play: Dec. 5, which is not Week 17 but rather Game 12 in Week 13.
Another first: With the 17-game regular-season schedules, preseason slates have shrunk to three games. And the Jets' only home summer game will come in the third and final week of preseason games against the Eagles. They've previously played the Eagles at home twice in a season (one PS, one RS) in 1987, 1993 and 2015.
Jacksonville: Wilson could get another first later in the season should he start for the Jets against first overall draft choice Trevor Lawrence when the Jaguars come calling at MetLife on Dec. 26. If that matchup occurs, it would be only the fourth time since the start of the 1967 common draft that the first and second picks in a draft were both QBs and faced each other on the field as rookies.
In '93, Seattle's Rick Mirer (2) edged New England's Drew Bledsoe (1). In '98, Indianapolis' Peyton Manning (1) prevailed over San Diego's Ryan Leaf (2). In '15, Tennessee's Marcus Mariota (2) toppled Tampa Bay's Jameis Winston (1).
Brady: The Jets played their former New England nemesis many times from 2001 through '19, but never when he quarterbacked a team other than the Red, White & Blue from Foxboro, MA. That changes this year when Brady leads the Super Bowl-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers to MetLife Stadium in Week 17, Jan. 2, 2022.
Prime Time: At the moment the Jets are scheduled for only one night national game in '21, at the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday Night Football on Nov. 4.
AFC East: Besides the New England anomaly, the Jets' division games have at least one more unusual aspect. The games against the Bills are Nov. 14 (Week 10) and Jan. 9 (Week 18). It's the 10th time the Jets have played their regular-season finale vs. Buffalo and the fifth time they've played it in Western New York (following the 13-6 win to conclude 2019). But due to the 17-game schedule, Jan. 9 is the latest the Jets have ever finished a regular-season schedule.
Second Half: The Green & White's schedule strength of .489 is more favorable than last year's .531 SOS and the 2019 SOS of .533. And the "favorable" part of the sked could kick in when the Jets begin a stretch of six home games in an eight-game span beginning with the MetLife meetings vs. Buffalo (Nov. 14) and Miami (Nov. 21), continuing with Philadelphia (Dec. 5) and New Orleans (Dec. 12), and concluding with Jacksonville (Dec. 26) and Tampa Bay (Jan. 2).
This is the Jets' first stretch of six home games in an eight-game span since 1976.
Down the Stretch: The Jaguars (1-15) make a closing four games just slightly less difficult. Playing at Miami (10-6), vs. Tampa Bay (11-5) and at Buffalo (13-3) marks the first year the Jets will have finished with three 10-win foes in their final four games since 2011.
1 p.m. Kickoffs: Can multiple early starts help the Saleh program get flying quickly? One final thing is for sure: The Jets have a lot of early starts. There are 13 opening kickoffs at 1 p.m. ET, a total only matched in 1978 (the first season of 16-game skeds) and 2017. And with all nine home games at the moment set for 1 o'clock starts, well, that's a Jets first since they've never played nine home games in a regular season before. The only time they had eight 1 p.m. home KOs: 1978.
See All of the Games on the 2021 Jets Schedule